Hulu

Google TV, Sigh…

At the Adobe Max conference last month I, along with every other attendee were told that we will be receiving a Logitech Review, Google TV box. We are supposed to receive them sometime this month, but I have no idea when.

When I first found out I’d be getting one of these I was thrilled. I have held out huge hopes for what Google TV could bring to the table, and how it could be the opening salvo in impending the “Cut the Cable” war. The problem is, all of the major networks see the potential Google TV brings, and it has them running scared. Before I say any more, I want to be clear and say that I am not looking for Google TV to bring the entire PC/browser web experience to my TV set. I am looking forward to the opportunity to engage in light browsing experiences, and use the service to time shift and place shift my content consumption.

Since the launch of Google TV, there has been a steady withdrawal, and blocking of streaming content from all the major networks, and today broadcast giant Viacom joined ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox blocking even more content. Along with the major networks, streaming service Hulu is unavailable as well. Are we beginning to see a pattern forming? I think we are.

The problem all boils down to money. The big networks like the revenue model that is in place with cable. The Cable companies, while hating to pay the big networks for popular TV shows, know that they need the big networks in order to remain viable. Both see Google TV as a revenue threat which might explain why they are working so hard to block streaming TV content o the device. It’s a shame because there is so much potential here.

Last week Walt Mossberg, and David Pogue both gave mediocre reviews of the Google TV service, and frankly you can’t blame them. Google TV is rather limited right now, in both applications that are ready for it, and services that are available for it. Both Pogue and Mossberg feel that it’s not ready, not finished, and not well-integrated. This is true. It is version 1.0 for all the hardware and software that is out. The setup isn’t as easy as Apple TV, and the lack of services hamper the experience.

“Google TV is trying to do a lot, which is admirable, but doesn’t quite pull it off in a way that’s easy or understandable or fluid, and it doesn’t actually fulfill all its promises.” Walt Mossberg.

I am still holding out hope. I am hoping that Google can work out streaming content deals with all the major networks. I’m hoping that in the next few months as Google TV arrives on more sets, and on stand alone boxes that application developers will begin to create applications that truly extend the experience Google TV could offer. I’m ready for convergence. I’m ready to cut the cable. I’m ready for more than Twitter, Facebook, Netflix, Flickr, and Pandora, etc.

In the long run Google TV and services like it are the future of how we engage with our TV sets. At the Adobe MAX conference I heard in a session that by 2020 65% of all media will be consumed via streaming to a device like Google TV, rather than through traditional broadcast channels. That translates to 30 plus hours of media a week, per person, worldwide. That alone should be enough to convince the big four broadcasters to embrace this technology.

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I’m Loving Hulu Plus for the iPad.

Update

Before you read the post below, take note that I canceled Hulu Plus after about two months of use. There were constant issues with the quality of the video stream to my iPad which caused major artifacting and noise. I also had issues with the service randomly quitting and restarting the program I was watching.

One other thing that killed it for me, (and this has less to do with Hulu and more to do with major networks and distribution), The TV programs I wanted to watch were showing up on average two weeks after the original air date. I was under the impression Hulu Plus would guarantee those shows would arrive sooner.

I am still hopeful for Hulu as well as Google TV (I have a Logitech Review), but it might be awhile before all the bugs are worked out.

Original Post

Yesterday afternoon I got a confirmation email for the Hulu Plus service for the iPhone and iPad. If you are unfamiliar with what this is, Hulu Plus is basically the internet based streaming media service, but it offers first run TV programs, instead of a handful of trailing episodes that come out days after the original show has aired. I know there is a bunch of internet chatter about having to pay a monthly fee, and you still get ads, but before you dismiss Hulu Plus lets take a look at that.

Hulu Plus is using the subscription cost to probably offset a number of costs associated with delivery. That could be bandwidth, storage, licensing fees etc. I don’t work for Hulu so I can’t make a definitive claim to this. It’s just a guess. As for the Ads, well I am going to assume that the TV Channels that are offering the content to Hulu, are asking for some kind of a cut, and Hulu being a smart company said we will let you run limited ads, if you take a smaller piece of our pie. And to be honest the ads aren’t that intrusive. In the last 24 hours, I have watched about 10 shows and in each one, the maximum number of ads has been 4, and the length of each ad has been less than 10 seconds. I can live with that. when you think about it, that is less than 40 seconds of advertising in a 30 minute program. That is far better than live broadcast, and still less time than you spend fast forwarding through ads on your DVR.

So, lets talk about Hulu Plus.

Since yesterday I’ve been using it on my iMac, iPad and iPhone. The quality of the videos are excellent across all three devices, and Hulu’s 720p video streams look as good as Netflix’s. On all three of my Apple devices, The iMac obviously looks the best, followed by the iPad then iPhone. The size and resolution of the screen makes all the difference, and it’s hard to beat what the 27 inch iMac brings to the table in terms of screen quality. The iPad though is where this app shines. You have a portable device with a screen that is big enough to be enjoyable, and in my case it can stream video over the 3G network, so no WiFi is needed.

From a user perspective the iPad app is pretty nice. The UI is clean and easy to use. If you are familiar with the web based version of Hulu you will be right at home with the iPad version.The application allows you to resume any program from the point you left off, if for any reason your session gets interrupted which is a definite plus.

On the iPad the content appeared crisp and clean with no noticeable artifacting of images. Video in the Plus service is 720p and the audio sounds great.  Hulu definitely got their encoding right as things like spinning fan blades, wheels  and running water in shots have a tendency to  show pixelation and artifacting very easily if not encoded properly. Even running the video out of my iPad and in to a 36″ Samsung TV, the quality is still pretty damn good. (although the iPad TV connection kit is only VGA so it doesn’t support 720p playback. Your image is displayed from the iPad as a Standard Definition signal)

While I didn’t see any major problems with the Hulu Plus service, there are a few kinks they need to work out.

I changed my video player settings from auto-select to 720p as default, and the video stopped and wouldn’t start back up. To resolve the issue I had to click the update settings button, and refresh the page. This forces you to have to watch the entry ad all over again. I’m thinking that Hulu will get this fixed, or that it might be an issue with my internet connection at the house. (gotta love Time Warner Cable’s horrid service) There were also some hiccups in the band width at what appeared to be a peak period. Once again this could have been my internet service provider and not Hulu.

As for the iPhone, while it is not the ideal screen size to watch on, the service worked great. Last night during happy hour we entertained a number of people at the bar with streamed clips of The Office. The stream came through flawlessly over the 3G signal on my iPhone 4, and it looked and sounded great. The UI for the phone takes some getting used to, but it isn’t bad. It’s just different, optimized for the phone experience.

One other gripe I have is, when you register. At the registration point they ask you to give your year of birth so they can tailor content suggestions for you. I can see this to a point, but in my case it flooded the content section with shows like The A Team, McGuiver, Dick Vandyke, Alfred Hitchcock presents, etc. Now I’m not knocking any of these shows, they just aren’t my first choices for content to watch. More over there is no way to tell Hulu, you don’t want to see these programs, or favorite other ones. It would be great if  Hulu was like Pandora, where it allowed you to like or dislike specific content and it learned from the choices you made.

As for the registration process, it was extremely easy, and required only basic contact and billing information for the $9.95 a month fee.  Since portions of Hulu’s content is free, and the Plus service requires a monthly charge, it could be very difficult to figure out which content is free and which requires a subscription. To address this issue, Hulu places a green plus icon next to any content that’s available only with the subscription service.

Whether Hulu Plus has enough content to make it worth paying for is something everyone is going to have their own opinion on, and I’m sure there will be long debates about paying a fee and still seeing ads. From a technical and quality perspective though, Hulu Plus offers exactly what one would expect it should for about ten dollars a month. Frankly if they continue to add in more first run content, Hulu Plus and a Service like Boxee could have me saying Ba-Bye to the cable company for good.

Hulu Really Could Change Everything

Yesterday posted a rather dreamy vision of how we will consume media and interact with TV, Internet, Mobile device etc. If you didn’t read it, the basic point was where are we going to be in 10 years, and get ready because how you use things like your TV especially will be a very different animal. I really think that cable providers are going to have to re-think the way they do business. Their business model is a mess, and really they seem out of touch with what consumers want.

On the Hulu blog, there were some interesting year-end facts they posted. And this is why I think you won’t experience  TV the same way you do today in 5 or so years.

– Monthly users of Hulu, as measured by comScore, grew to over 43 million, a 95 percent increase over this time last year.

– Monthly streams, as measured by comScore, grew to 924 million, a 307 percent increase from this time last year.

– Hulu’s content library doubled over the past year. They now offer over 14,000 hours of premium content, up from 5,600 hours at this time last year.

– Hulu grew from 130 content partners last year to over 200 today, which includes the addition of Disney/ABC content.

– The number of advertisers/marketers Hulu have served has more than doubled, growing from 166 to 408. As a team, we are extremely excited about the atypically strong results we have been able to drive for our marketing partners.

– 6.4 million Hulu video players were embedded across the web in 2009, a 237 percent jump from 2008 levels. To date, Hulu players have been embedded on over 207,000 websites.

– Some of the more prominent consumer-facing innovations from 2009: Hulu Desktop, Captions Search, Continuous Play, Tags, and the ongoing innovation hub that is Hulu Labs.

– Our search service managed nearly 1 billion search queries in 2009, up 175 percent from 2008.

– The five most popular shows on the service in 2009:

– Hulu’s most embedded video of 2009 was the live stream of Barack Obama’s inauguration.

– The most popular clip on Hulu in 2009 was “Motherlover“, a Saturday Night Live Digital Short.

– The most popular full episode on Hulu in 2009 was Family Guy’s “Stew-Roids.”

– Our customers had a lot to say about us in 2009, and Hulu listened carefully. Some of the more colorful comments (via Twitter):

  • BradMays: If Hulu.com truly is an evil alien plot to take over the world…I’ve already been assimilated.
  • andrewjmay: Dear Hulu, This has been on my mind for a while now, but tonight is the night that I let you know my true feelings….I love you.
  • kiki_miserychic: I’m getting a coffee from McCafe tomorrow because Hulu told me to do it. My brain is liquidy slush.
  • Tiffanyasapun: found Hulu.com and my feet hurt. Those 2 are unrelated.

– Hulu was fortunate to receive a number of awards over the last year, including being named the World’s 3rd Most Innovative Company (Fast Company, March 2009), being included in TIME magazine’s Top 50 Best Websites, and ranking among the Top 5 fastest rising Google search terms.